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HONG KONG (Reuters) - RSA Insurance Group Ltd (RSA.L), Britain's largest non-life insurer, is looking to sell its Asian operations in an auction that could fetch up to $500 million and draw a wide range of suitors, people familiar with the sale process told Reuters.
The sale is part of a group-wide restructuring led by new Chief Executive Stephen Hester, after losses caused by extreme weather and accounting irregularities at its Irish division hit its finances and prompted the departure of several senior executives.
Insurers considering bids include Sompo Japan Insurance, a unit of NKSJ Holdings Inc (8630.T) as well as France's AXA (AXAF.PA), the people said. Australia's QBE Insurance Group Ltd (QBE.AX) and German insurer Allianz SE (ALVG.DE) are also weighing their options, they added.
RSA, which is being advised by Goldman Sachs Group (GS.N), is expected to kick off the sale process in the coming weeks, one of the people said.
RSA declined to comment, as did AXA, Allianz, QBE and Sompo Japan. AXA said it takes an extremely disciplined approach to examining acquisition opportunities but did not specifically reference RSA. Goldman Sachs also declined to comment.
Best known in Britain for its More Than home and motor insurance brand, RSA joins a long list of global insurers to retreat or scale back Asian operations. Aviva (AV.L), ING Groep ING.AS, American International Group (AIG.N) and New York Life are among prominent insurers that have cut down their Asia exposure since the global financial crisis. At the same, some well-capitalized Asian companies, including AIA Group Ltd (1299.HK) and Canadian insurers Manulife Financial Corp (MFC.TO) and Sun Life Financial Inc (SLF.TO) have snapped up businesses sold by the retreating insurers.
In Asia, RSA has businesses in Hong Kong, Singapore, China and India but those operations contributed less than 2 percent to net premiums in the first quarter of 2014. That has encouraged the company to focus on core markets, such as the United Kingdom, Ireland and Scandinavia.
Net earned premiums from Asia fell 7 percent in the first quarter of 2014 to 38 million pounds ($64 million). RSA had total net earned premiums of 1.9 billion pounds, according to company filings.
As part of its turnaround, RSA is seeking to raise $2.7 billion in capital, about half of which will come from the sale of non-core operations and money saved from scrapping its dividend, with the rest coming from a rights issue that wrapped up in April.
Asset sales so far include the sale of its Baltics and Poland units.
RSA shares have risen 19.3 percent year to date, broadly in-line with the performance of FTSE 100 Index .FTSE.
($1 = 0.5956 British Pounds)
Reporting by Denny Thomas; Additional reporting by Taiga Uranaka in Tokyo, Byron Kaye in Sydney and Christopher Vellacott in London; Editing by Edwina Gibbs